The final presidential debate: 5 healthcare takeaways

President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden debated Oct. 22 for the last time before the general election. The debate took place in Nashville, Tenn.  

Five takeaways for healthcare leaders:


1. NBC News anchor and moderator Kristen Welker asked President Trump about his strategy for dealing with the country's latest wave of COVID-19 cases. As of Oct. 22, roughly 40,000 Americans were in the hospital with the virus, the most since early August. In response, President Trump cited, as he has in the past, a March study from the Imperial College of London COVID-19 Response Team that projected 2.2 million Americans could die from the virus if no action were taken to control it. He compared that metric to the roughly 222,220 Americans who have died from the virus. The president said spikes and surges will soon be gone, and the virus "will go away, and as I say, we're rounding the turn, we're rounding the corner." As of Oct. 22, 16 states reported the highest share of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. 

2. Citing his administration's COVID-19 vaccine effort Operation Warp Speed, President Trump said a vaccine will be announced in "weeks." When Ms. Welker asked President Trump if he could guarantee that a vaccine will be delivered in weeks, and what companies could do that, he said he couldn't guarantee that timeframe. Currently none of the large vaccines trials have been completed. The earliest a drugmaker could apply for emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine is likely the end of November. The president has previously said a vaccine will be ready by early 2021, and Moncef Slaoui, PhD, chief of the Operation Warp Speed, said Oct. 21 that all Americans should be inoculated by next June.

3. When asked about the pandemic, Mr. Biden focused on the current surge in COVID-19 cases, saying the U.S. is seeing more than 70,000 new cases a day, a number reported Oct. 20 by The New York Times' database. In his criticism of the current administration's handling of the virus, Mr. Biden cited an Oct. 8 editorial from The New England Journal of Medicine that denounced the White House's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Biden claimed 200,000 more Americans may die from the virus before the end of year. Current forecasts from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington project the nation's death toll may be between 284,000 and 340,000 by 2021. 


4. The White House supports a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the ACA. The case is set to come before the Supreme Court Nov. 10. Ms. Welker asked President Trump what his administration would do to protect Americans who could lose their health insurance if the Supreme Court decides to invalidate the health law. President Trump focused on his administration's termination of the ACA's individual mandate, and again said preexisting condition protections under the health law would not go away, but did not explain how they would be maintained.

Health strategy

5. President Trump accused Mr. Biden of wanting to end private health insurance for the roughly 180 million Americans who purchase their health insurance through a private insurer. President Trump also called out Mr. Biden's running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, for her shifting stance on Medicare-for-All. A health plan Ms. Harris proposed in 2019 includes a role for private insurers. Mr. Biden refuted President Trump's claim about Americans losing private insurance under his plan saying he supports private payers. If the ACA is struck down, Mr. Biden said he would implement "Bidencare," which includes a government-run public option that would compete with insurers but not eliminate them. Mr. Biden, who has not supported Medicare-for-All, distanced himself from other Democratic presidential candidates who have strongly supported similar proposals. 

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